Wildfire Explodes in Spain as Europe Reels From Record Heat

A burned landscape in Torre de l’Espanyol, Catalonia, where a wildfire erupted on Wednesday.
Photo: AP

Fanned by fierce winds and searing temperatures, a wildfire is exploding in size in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain. According to the Catalan interior minister, it could be the worst blaze the region has seen in 20 years.

The fire, which began on Wednesday, spread rapidly and has consumed at least 5,169 hectares (12,773 acres) in the province of Tarragona, according to local authorities. In a statement, the Catalan government said the fire was on course to burn through 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). As of Thursday, more than 500 personnel, including 350 local firefighters and over 200 soldiers from Spain’s military, had been dispatched to bring the blaze under control, according to the Guardian.

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Authorities with the regional conservation office suspect the fire started on a farm when a pile of animal manure that wasn’t being properly stored spontaneously self-combusted. But if poop lit the spark, the fire has been fueled by the extreme heat conditions currently gripping much of the continent.

Heat records are being broken fast across Europe, with temperatures in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and France reaching a new high for June on Wednesday. The monthly heat record in France continued to inch upward on Thursday, and Severe Weather Europe reports France could see its all-time heat record broken on Friday. The heat has even forced the Germans to impose speed limits on their famously laissez-faire Autobahn.

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The weather has been torrid across Spain as well, with much of the nation’s northeast and interior under some sort of heat advisory on Thursday and temperatures projected to surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas. Combined with a dearth of rainfall, the eastern half of the country is currently experiencing extreme fire danger.

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As we’ve previously reported, the heat wave is the result of a weather pattern called a rex block featuring contrasting regions of high and low pressure that influence the movement of the jet stream and are essentially allowing hot air to stream northward from Africa. While there are no attribution studies yet linking this heat wave to climate change, scientists are already on the case. A rapid attribution study following a heat wave in northern Europe last summer determined that climate change made the event more likely.

Catalan Fire Department head David Borrell told Catalunya Ràdio that thanks to a combination of the weather and rough terrain, it was difficult to be optimistic that firefighters would bring the blaze under control soon.

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[BBC, The Guardian, El Pais, Washington Post]

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Maddie Stone

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.